#8 – The Smell of Burned Leaves

She was too young to be called old, yet old enough to not be called a girl. Her auburn curls fell over her shoulder, swaying a little by the breeze, and slightly more by her gait. She walked slowly. She was pregnant, until yesterday. Then she had a girl. A stillborn. It was a curse, they all said. She shouldn’t be with them, she should be stripped and hanged from the oak, they said. All agreed in unison, save one. He was the man who had fallen in deep love with this girl, since the first time he saw her.

He would fight for her. Prince Christian he was called. He was a prince in fact, only his kingdom existed no more than the hours that passed by the seconds. He bore the title still. People said he was arrogant, he believed he was proud. He took out his sword, challenging anyone who would go against him and put her on the tree. He didn’t know her name, nobody knew anyone’s name here. They were all alike, only different in faces, yet this prince wanted to differ from them. His sword remained unsheathed for a long while, until they decided against killing her.

The baby was to be cremated. The smell of burned leaves, mixed with her fragrance as she lit it, was the purest smell he had ever known. He fell all the more in love with her, promising to himself he would soon give her a daughter, a daughter that would live. He once had a daughter, who he had lost in the fire. The fire burnt in front of him even now, choking his breath and tearing his eyes. He turned around to join the group. The woman came and walked with him for a while, and then implanted a kiss on his lips. The saltiness of tears, the dry lips, and the musky skin all fell together on his lips. He savored the moment as long as he could, but they had to keep walking.

Behind them, the one-legged boy Janas limped. His father was a woodcutter once, but now he was dead, and so was his mother. His brother was only what he had. And he had turned out to go against the people. The Things would come for them, he knew, and when it came, they would take him and her, and him too, and they would do nothing about it. Why then, would he care for a girl who he met only on the road, and why would he save her life when hanging was a merciful act compared to what awaited them? He hadn’t an answer, and he wasn’t sure he wanted one.

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